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Tinker's Green Infrastructure Plan harvesting big returns

  • Published
  • By Brion Ockenfels
  • 72nd Air Base Wing
Most people would associate hay baling operations with agriculture and not grounds-keeping at one of the busiest aerospace maintenance, overhaul and repair complexes in the Air Force.

At Tinker Air Force Base, baling hay is yielding a harvest designed to "green" the base while cutting grounds-maintenance costs.

"The total dollar savings to the base when comparing mowing and areas for hay baling is about $70,000 annually," said Lowell Bynum, the contracting officer representative for Tinker AFB's grounds maintenance in the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate.

Baling hay is especially attractive in designated areas as an alternative to mowing, said John Krupovage, natural resources manager in the 72nd Air Base Wing CE.

"If we want it mowed, the taxpayer is footing the bill; if we hay it, it essentially costs the taxpayer nothing," Krupovage said. "The reason it works well on Tinker is that we have some larger, relatively level, undeveloped grass areas that are suitable for haying, and they need to be maintained in some way."

But not all areas being hayed right now will remain in agriculture, he said.

Some areas will eventually be converted to native prairie or woodland areas in accordance with Tinker AFB's Green Infrastructure Plan. "Once established, this will further reduce grounds maintenance and move Tinker towards a more sustainable complex," Krupovage said.

Base officials began the operation in 2009 with 115 acres. That has now grown to about 300 acres. And so has the harvest. Since 2009, the operation has yielded more than 900 large bales weighing about 1,000 pounds each. Most bales are used for livestock forage.

"In most areas, we hay late (after mid-July) to comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," Krupovage said. "This law mandates protection of migratory birds such as meadowlarks, dickcissels and other birds nesting in these grassy areas."

Current haying operations do not affect airfield use, he said. It is business as usual. Flight safety is always the No. 1 priority. If haying will be accomplished on or the near the airfield in the future, then special precautions must be followed to ensure the haying operations do not attract hazardous concentrations of birds.

As compared to other agricultural activities, such as row cropping, haying grass is one of the least attractive to wildlife, Krupovage said.

"In fact, with precautions following strict protocol, haying can be less attractive to birds than mowing operations," he said.

The current heat wave hasn't affected the outlook for Tinker AFB's baling operations this year. "We had a pretty normal spring, moisture wise, so grass growth was good prior to the drought," Krupovage said. "The drought, if it continues, just means there will be no possibility of a second cutting this year."

From a rancher's point of view, the return of $233 per acre for haying is a windfall and makes good business sense.

Officials with 72nd Air Base Wing CE said they are committed to finding ways similar to this, helping maintain Tinker AFB at no additional cost.